Third Culture Kid Dating; adults who have spent their developmental years outside their parent's culture

Have you experienced grief and anger as a result of being a Third Culture Kid?



Before I tell you more about my business idea, I thought I would delve back into some of the common themes that come up as a third culture kid.  I went to a fantastic evening meeting Adult Third Culture Kids on Thursday night in a bar in Soho.  It was an event set up by the Meetup Group Adult Third Culture Kids in London.  It was great comparing stories of where we lived as kids and how being a TCK has shaped us, made us who we are.

In one of the conversations I had, I learned that some TCKs felt strong anger during their childhood and a little bit afterwards about moving and leaving friends and classmates. Most said they felt fine with it today as they had had the time to register why certain things had happened.  But when they were kids, and their parents all of a sudden mentioned they were moving to Germany or Honk Kong or anywhere else, they were stunned.  It meant that a couple of months from that point, they would have to say bye to their friends, not knowing if they would ever see them again. Leaving with the knowledge that they would have to be strong again, be proactive in making new friends, and start settling down in a brand new place.

I was quite surprised at first about the anger the felt.  I guess for it had been different for me.  And maybe for other TCKs too.  For one, since I was in international schools throughout, there was the expectation of new students coming and going.  Students expected people to leave, and they simply welcomed newcomers.  Yes, as the new student, you had to be extraverted and go towards people to make new friends.  You couldn’t be scared or timid because otherwise it would have been a real struggle to make friends. However, once you had made that first move over towards your new classmates, they were willing to let you into their group of friends.

I also felt that I always kind of expected I would be moving.  I was never surprised when my dad announced we were moving.  When he said we were leaving from South Africa to Vienna, I was just excited.  I took it really well.  I couldn’t wait really to try a new place out, learn about new customs and cultures, discover new activities, and meet new people.  And strangely enough, I never felt sad to leave.  I was able to completely and totally detach myself from the group of friends I was in. I was ready for a new adventure. And I had no fears about whether or not I would manage to make new friends. I simply knew I would.  And more importantly, that it would be extremely easy to.

I think it would maybe have been different as well if I had been moving on my own. For example, I knew some classmates who had to leave for boarding school.  I think this would maybe have been harder as you had to make the move alone.  However, because I was moving with my parents and my two siblings, I felt confident. We had such a close-knit family that it felt like that’s all we needed.  And the friends we would meet or connections we would make in the new place were just added-value.

Some TCKs said they had been sad to leave their friends for a new city. One of them explained that they had never expected to leave, and each time they had moved, it had been a surprise for them. They said this made it hard.  I think that’s why it wasn’t hard for me; I had anticipated a move.  I had expectations.  I knew I would be leaving.  So the knowledge that I would leave and the fact that I was aware of my situation made it easy for me to cope.  I think if I had not anticipated these changes, I would have been surprised.  Now I realise today how this has shaped me.  I have found out over time that today, as an adult, this means I am constantly anticipating what comes next.  I don’t let things simply happen to me.  I’m not waiting for things to happen to me. Instead, I’m always being proactive about my next move, anything from working hard to find a new job to figuring out what my next project will be or even making new friends when I know a close friend is leaving London.  If I get ready for the downside and expect the worst, I can be ready for it when it happens. Instead of being on the back foot, I can strive in times of change.  If you are reactive, then it’s too late I feel. Whereas if you proactively make changes and take action, you won’t be caught off guard as much.  I know today that this definitely comes from being a TCK.

How about you? Were you upset when you left a city as a kid? When you left your friends? Or were you excited, like me, for the unknown, the new people, and new adventures you would embark upon?


2 thoughts on “Have you experienced grief and anger as a result of being a Third Culture Kid?

  1. I only lived in one other country as a child, so I didn’t expect to move there, or to move home after two and half years. My main anger was with my mom, who gave away ALL my books the week before we came back to the US – including one I had JUST won at school. (She recently was able to find a copy of the out of print book and gave it me for my birthday – almost 40 years later!)
    The other anger was not so TCK related, but I have the unique persepective of not being allowed to be a Girl Scout or a Girl Guide – she said no in both countries!

  2. The only time I remember being ANGRY was when they sent me “home” to boarding school to repeat Grade 12 – first time:
    * leaving without saying goodbye (1 week’s notice, during school holidays)
    * moving/living alone (no family context in which to process the culture-shock)
    * going to an all-girls school
    * going to an Anglican school
    * going to a boarding school (90 minutes away from where the rest of the family lived on their return)
    * being in a non-MK environment
    * wearing a school uniform
    * wearing shoes 24/7
    * so many more.

    I was “home”, but it would’ve been easier if they’d sent me to Thailand – at least no one would’ve expected me to speak the language with an identifiable accent, know how their sports worked, remember childhood TV shows, understand why people who didn’t believe God existed knew an entire Anglican service by heart AND thought it was perfectly obvious why “you just do” only eat fish on Fridays… etc etc.

    To be fair, labelling it as “anger” is a massive understatement – it was the shot that started a 10-year maelstrom of war with my parents. It was rage, pure atavistic terror-fuelled rage – I felt like I was the eye of the hurricane, surrounded by black, roiling, lightning-shot, evil clouds of grief and rage and fear and fury and hatred.

    I was 16 when that happened – I’m 42 now, & we still Don’t Talk About That. My sister & one of my brothers have since relocated their families to that town, 90 minutes from where I live now. I’ve never seen their homes, never gone up for the weekend – the only time I’ve ever voluntarily gone back was when my sister had a medical emergency and my mum needed me to drive her up.

    (My sister has often complained about this, to which I usually point out that it’s not really my fault that she moved to the only place in the world I refuse to go.)

    *ahem* So, in summary: I’ve only once felt “angry” about a move, and it was directly related to having no warning at all, saying no goodbyes, being without my family support network and feeling abandoned. The TCK lifestyle was never an issue, but the brute force culture-shock homecoming was more than I could handle.

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